The best apps and games for primary schoolers
Kids tend to like the outdoors, hence many parents finding a collection of pine cones and tiny grubby handprints in their house after a walk in the woods. But the weather doesn’t always like kids. When it’s being uncooperative, you can feed interest in plant life with Namoo.
This interactive book has a gorgeous minimal art style and succinct text. Most importantly, the scenes encourage play and exploration, such as a proddable plant cell that makes beepy sci-fi noises, and a fertilisation section that leaves you with a futuristic-looking angular apple you fear would break your teeth if you bit into it.
Download Namoo for iOS (£3.99)
Weather by Tinybop
Given that the British are legally obliged to complain about the weather at least 50 times per day, you might as well start your kids off early learning about all things rain, wind, sun and snow.
In Weather by Tinybop, you tap icons, to discover hot-spots that unlock little interactive scenes you can fiddle about with. Kid in a good mood? Watch as they melt ice to help someone fish, or cool things down for a panting dog. A tiny Trump in waiting? Get concerned while they rip apart a house with a tornado, while laughing maniacally and yelling something about climate change being a hoax.
Download Weather by Tinybop for Android (£free + IAP)
Universe in a Nutshell
Want your kid to fully understand their place in the scheme of things? Then Universe in a Nutshell is a must-install. Via the magic of pinch gestures you can zoom from the Planck length all the way up to the observable universe, comparing the sizes of over 250 objects in between.
Along with being a beautifully illustrated and tactile modern take on a size comparison chart, there’s some learning to be done here as well: tap on an object and you get a bit of writing about it. All this is backed by a suitably chill-out soundtrack that further helps immersion.
Got kids that are dino-mad, to the point it’s making your ears dino-sore? (Oh, just go with it.) This app provides a solution, transforming them into palaeontologists via the power of AR.
Whether you’re in the woods, your garden or your kitchen, point your iPhone’s camera at the ground and with this app you can tap away to unearth fossils. Once enough of your find has been uncovered, hot-spots reveal handy facts about it.
Each skeleton requires a few digs to compile a complete beast, which is then automatically assembled to tower above you in AR. To finish things off, a screenshot button makes it a cinch to snap your budding dino-hunter alongside their hard-earned prize.
Download ARcheology for iOS (£4.99)
Mission To Mars AR
Too often, augmented reality apps are gimmicks or frustratingly short. Mission to Mars AR is neither. Instead, this is an ambitious app that marries fun, exploration and a pile of facts, making it suitable for any wannabe NASA director. You can launch a rocket or have fun driving scale-model rovers across a desk or down your street. There’s a portal you can confidently stride through to then amble around the Red Planet. And if you think you’ve got what it takes, you can tackle a nail-biting ‘7 minutes of terror’ landing sequence and see if you can better robotic automation. (Spoiler: Stuff couldn’t. Things all got a bit smashy.)
Download for iOS (£free)
Download for Android (£free)
Minecraft is great, obviously, but it’s also vast, slightly intimidating and hard to master for the younger end of the gaming spectrum. Toca Blocks is none of those things, while still offering a creative sandbox within which youngsters can let their imaginations run wild.
Like Minecraft, it’s all about digging and building, but because it’s all in 2D it’s a lot easier for younger kids to visualise where their blocks should be placed. Blocks of different types can be very easily combined - just mash them together - to make all manner of different textures and objects and one world can very quickly end up looking completely different from another.
There’s no objective as such, no survival mode, no dangers, so it probably won’t hold their attention past about age five or six – but that’s hardly a problem, as they’ll be ready to level up and move on to Minecraft then anyway.
Download Toca Blocks for iOS (£3.99)
Download Toca Blocks for Android (£3.99)
If you’ve played Underworld and Orbital 24/7 for months, attempting to brainwash your younglings into making electronic music, chances are dumping them in front of ProTools will merely result in bafflement and wide eyes. Enter: Loopimal, essentially ‘My First Sequencing App’.
You drag coloured shapes to empty slots, which trigger canned loops performed by a cartoon creature. Master that and the screen can be split, enabling an animated Fab Four to smash out oddball beats. There’s no going wrong, all songs are in C-major so others can play along, and the funky bass-playing octopus and stompy mammoth need their own record contract immediately. And if you’re hungry for more – or want something a little more advanced – check out the equally awesome Bandimal.
Download Loopimal for iOS (£3.99)
We admire the ambition in DNA Play. It aims to introduce kids to the concept of DNA, by way of a puzzle-based interface that results in a monster receiving constant mutations. In reality, we imagine the nuance will be lost, but that doesn’t mean DNA Play isn’t fun to mess about with.
Once your monster’s got all of its parts, further pokes and prods result in radical transformations. Monsters can be further messed with by plonking them on skateboards, scaring them by turning out the lights, and having them dance flamenco (presumably while actual monsters look on, slowly shaking their heads).
Download DNA Play for iOS (£2.99)
Download DNA Play for Android (£2.99)
Zen Studio: Finger Painting
Instead of freeform colouring, Zen Studio offers up a canvas with a grid of triangles. When any slot is tapped, a sound plays. The result is like creating modern art while Brian Eno noodles away in the background. It’s relaxing and thoughtful in precisely the manner scrawling at random with crayons is not.
For kids that prefer more guidance, the app provides a range of template-based tutorials, which are akin to stencils. For free, you get a limited selection of everything (and no white paint, which doubles as an eraser); but the ‘pro’ version is a one-off purchase and is well worth the outlay.
Download Zen Studio: Finger Painting for Android (£free or £1.09)
Download Zen Studio: Finger Painting for iOS (£free or £2.99)
If your kid’s forever bugging you for yet another ‘finding’ book that’ll cost you a tenner and be finished/discarded in approximately 30 minutes, get them Hidden Folks instead.
With its animated hand-drawn black and white scenes and mouth-originated noises, the game has plenty of character. But also, due to the cryptic clues and often gargantuan levels, even the most skilled Where’s Wally? player will take many hours to find the 300 or so targets.
Neatly – and rarely for children’s games – it’s also a lot of fun for any adult folks wanting a game to relax with.
Download Hidden Things for iOS (£4.99)